Gareth Southgate's youngsters set for exciting new England era but don't label them the Golden Generation

Andy Dillon by Andy Dillon / 12 October 2018, 14:18

Gareth Southgate has done more work than any of his predecessors to remove the weight of history that has dragged England down for 30 years.

Although the irony of ‘Football’s Coming Home’ was lost on the Croatians at the World Cup, all that 1966 stuff and the pompous belief that England is somehow a major power has proved their undoing time and again.

So it was in Russia when the fired up Croats’ superior technical ability and underdog mentality provided fire in the bellies to overturn England’s shock lead.

The limitations of Southgate’s squad were brutally exposed in two games against Belgium as well.

Two countries with feeble domestic leagues who exist off the radar, reminding us what England must do to be considered genuine tournament candidates again.

And so Southgate is choosing to blood up to six youngsters in this evening’s UEFA Nations League match in Croatia. It’s not a rerun of the World Cup semi-final - there are too many changes in the England squad for that.

No, this is where Southgate can opt to roll out a new era for the national team with the possibility of six debutants over the next few days, starting behind closed doors in Rijeka then onto Spain next Tuesday.

 

Much has already been debated and dissected about Jadon Sancho, Mason Mount, Nathan Chalobah and James Maddison.

Throw in Fulham keeper Marcus Bettinelli and Brighton’s Lewis Dunk and there’s new names on the international rosta to excite us all.

But this is a plea more than a whinge. Should they, and one-cap Harry Winks, play well over the next five days, can we not jump the gun and label them the Golden Generation?

This phrase still haunts England and Southgate.

It has as much to do with our disappointments and downfall as the ignorant notion that because England won a home World Cup 52 years ago, they have a divine right to sit at football’s top table forever more.

Trawl back in time at the hoo-ha which surrounded the emergence of Steven Gerrard, David Beckham, John Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Wayne Rooney and a raft of other stellar n names who between them have 22 Premier League titles and nothing more than the last eight of a major international tournament.

It’s still the subject of fierce argument how the sum of these collective talents failed to add up to something more in a Three Lions shirt. But it should be crystal clear.

Pumping young sportsmen’s minds full of lavish praise, over-flattering them, glibly labelling them the ‘Golden Generation’ combines to make one massive ego problem and one huge let down on the pitch.

Southgate’s efforts to pour cold water on all this has worked extremely well so far. Never before has a nation been so in touch and so supportive of a team which is quite so poor.

The ‘English disease’ in football terminology used to be hooliganism, which like the game itself, we exported years ago, only for the foreigners to start doing as lot better than us very quickly.

Pragmatic Southgate is turning that around. The egos have been clipped. He is fully aware of what his players can and can’t achieve on a pitch.

He knows what gaps need to be filled and is searching everywhere to plug them: including the Championship and Bundesliga.

What is needed are good football brains, quick feet but cool temperaments from all of us not to get carried away with whatever the latest crop of England seedlings achieve over the next few days. Let them take time to flower.

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